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How to attract customers for your start-up on a budget

QUESTION 1: I am interested in using my university degree to start a business in marketing. How do I get new customers for my business when I don’t have a recognisable name for connections? Note: I do not have a business start-up loan, so I will need a lean model approach. – M

QUESTION 2: I have been working with a particular solar company for a few years. I started as an apprentice, but they sent me on training, and now I have experience and knowledge to the point that my boss can send me on jobs anywhere in Jamaica, big or small works, and I can complete from start to finish practically on my own. I reach the stage to earn more money and I would like to go on my own, but the thing I haven’t learnt is how to get to customers. Please, can you share my page and give me ideas about getting customers? – R

BUSINESSWISE: In recent months, many readers have sent messages like the ones above, asking for a lean approach to attracting customers, so I decided to use this week’s column to share a few general customer-acquisition and retention strategies for start-ups on a budget.

The guiding principle for a small start-up is that people prefer to do business with brands they’re familiar with, and/or with people that they know, like, and can trust to deliver efficiently effectively, and with integrity.

However, building a brand takes time. Getting people to know you and trust that your business can deliver what they need, over the competition, also takes time. Therefore, attracting customers will typically take time or require shortcuts that give instant or overnight credibility.

As a start-up on a budget, usually the lowest-hanging fruit for quickly attracting new customers is to leverage directly or indirectly your existing connections such as family members, friends, former coworkers, former classmates, colleagues in your network from church or volunteer organisations, and so on. By leverage, I mean pitching your services to them directly if they are the target market, or asking for referrals to potential customers, or asking them to connect you with a prospect with whom they have an existing relationship.

Another strategy to attract new customers is to leverage influencers and their voice, image, brand, audience, and credibility. Influencer marketing is heavily aligned to the principle that people prefer to do business with those they know, like, and trust, which is why many businesses around the world have found this to be an effective shortcut to acquiring new customers.

There is a delicate balance, however, in finding influencers who are effective, with influence over your target audience, and who have the skill to get your message across with authenticity that converts to customer spend. Also, achieving this within the confines of your budget may be difficult. However as entrepreneurs, you must be skilled at doing difficult things.

The third strategy is to leverage the Internet to build your brand and allow your prospective customers to get to meet you, learn more about you, and your business/expertise. The aim is to fast-track your journey to building credibility and influence while creating a channel that allows almost instant access to you and your business.

The final strategy you can pursue easily and on a budget is cold calling. However, this is likely the least effective of the four strategies outlined. Cold calling refers to contacting individuals, companies, or organisations that you do not know or have any relationship with, and who have not previously expressed an interest in your services or products, with the intention of gaining their interest or business.

It usually has a low success rate because the person that you are reaching doesn’t know you, may have no interest in what you are selling, or doesn’t want to buy when you are ready to sell. Most important, the cold-call target has no basis on which to trust you or that you can deliver what they actually want. Cold-calling is easiest for established brands, with name recognition, and still, it’s one of the less effective, but budget friendly, customer-conversion methods.

You will need to choose the mix of strategies that can work for you, bearing in mind that those I have shared are not exhaustive. There are many other strategies that you can research and implement, hopefully in alignment with your target market, product or service, and your own sales and marketing goals.

Whatever you choose to pursue, take some time to first build your skills and capacity in the areas of customer service, sales, and the psychology of buying. Attracting and retaining customers, in a free market, require a commitment to and the delivery of customer-service excellence. Remember, customers who are happy and satisfied tend to be more loyal and have a greater likelihood of spreading positive word of mouth about you and your business.

One love!

Yaneek Page is the programme lead for Market Entry USA, a certified trainer in entrepreneurship, and creator and executive producer of The Innovators and Let’s Make Peace TV series.

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